U.S. Senate Votes Against Calling Witnesses in Trump Impeachment Trial, Clearing Way for Acquittal

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By Richard Cowan, Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Friday voted against calling witnesses and collecting new evidence in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, clearing the way for Trump’s almost certain acquittal in the coming days.

By a vote of 51-49, the Republican-controlled Senate stopped Democrats’ drive to hear testimony from witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, who is thought to have first-hand knowledge of Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Those actions prompted the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to formally charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in December.

That made Trump only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. He denies wrongdoing and has accused Democrats of an "attempted coup."

The Senate is almost certain to acquit Trump of the impeachment charges, as a two-thirds Senate majority is required to remove Trump and none of the chamber’s 53 Republicans have indicated they will vote to convict.

In Friday’s vote on witnesses, two Republicans, Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, broke with their party and voted with Democrats.

Trump is seeking re-election in a Nov. 3 vote. Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face him.

The timing of that final vote was unclear. Senators said it could take place any time between late Friday and Wednesday. Republican senators had said it could come late on Friday or on Saturday.

The vote on witnesses came hours after the New York Times reported new details from Bolton’s unpublished book manuscript in which the former aide said Trump directed him in May to help in a pressure campaign to get Ukraine to pursue investigations that would benefit Trump politically.

Democrats said the news illustrated the need for the Senate to put Bolton under oath.

"A trial is supposed to be a quest for the truth. Let’s not fear what we will learn," said Adam Schiff, the lead Democratic prosecutor.

But Republicans said they had heard enough. Some said they did not think that Trump did anything wrong, while Senators Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman said his actions were wrong but did not amount to impeachable conduct.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said impeachment would be too divisive for the country, even if a president engaged in clearly impeachable activity.

Lisa Murkowski, a Republican moderate who Democrats had hoped would vote with them to extend the trial, said the case against Trump was rushed and flawed.

"I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed," she said in a prepared statement.

Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Karen Freifeld, Mark Hosenball, Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Patricia Zengerle, Lisa Lambert and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall